Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer said on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher tonight that the NBA not only has a more racially diverse – and younger – fan base than the NFL, but encourages its players to “express themselves.”
“I’ll speak for the NBA,” Ballmer said tonight. “We believe our players should express themselves. We are pleased to see our players express themselves. I encourage our players, use your platform. Speak.”
Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft and owner since 2014 of L.A.’s basketball franchise, made the NBA-NFL distinction during a panel discussion of conservatism in sports and the NFL’s attempts to keep players from protesting during the national anthem.
Mark Leibovich, New York Times writer and author of The Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times, said football is by far the “most Republican” sport, with a largely Republican fan base.
The racial make-up, Leibovich said, between owners and players is stark: 75% of “the workforce” is African American, while every owner but one is white (Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan is a Pakistani-American). Noting that many NFL owners contribute to Republican candidates (and some to Donald Trump’s inauguration), Leibovich said, “Basically they’re saying no politics in sports unless you’re the owners.”
Dissenting was Republican columnist and CNN host S.E. Cupp. “This country is great because it allows us to criticize it all the damn time,” she said, “but can we not take a minute to express some gratitude to people who serve?”
Maher had started the discussion by noting recent debates over whether professional sports should continue having cheerleaders. “I’m like, Why don’t you take away the militarism? I kind of like the cheerleaders.”
Noting that the government pays the NFL $5.4 million “to put on this recruiting show,” Maher compared “the flyovers and the flags” to “prayer in school.”
“It’s like saying, What’s wrong with prayer in school,” he said. “Well, we’re not there to pray.”
The sports discussion came late in tonight’s episode, which kicked off with Maher’s one-on-one interview with former Secretary of State John Kerry, who yesterday was the target of a Donald Trump tweet. “John Kerry had illegal meetings with the very hostile Iranian Regime, which can only serve to undercut our great work to the detriment of the American people,” Trump wrote. “He told them to wait out the Trump Administration! Was he registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act? BAD!”
Maher asked Kerry tonight what makes him so BAD?
“I told the truth,” Kerry said, adding, “Henry Kissinger for 40 years been traveling to Russia, to China. There’s absolutely nothing unusual about it, having a conversation.”
At least for tonight, Kerry got the final shot: “He really is a rare combination,” Kerry said of Trump. “He’s got the maturity of an eight-year-old boy with the insecurity of a teenage girl.”
Deadline will post video from the episode as it becomes available. Check back later…